by Kelly and Alessio
The Kick-off meeting
Colombia, Barranquilla, Bellavista, Calle 72, Carrera 55. Here is where the hosting Colombian students and the Swiss participants finally get to know each other. The atmosphere is pleasant, many smiles and many new names to memorise fast. Our journey starts with a Kick-Off meeting at the hotel. The teaching team of both countries briefly introduces himself. Then, without losing time, we all met at the swimming pool where 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow are waiting each of the six groups. The task is simple: in eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of the given material. The marshmallow needs to be on top. This is the so-called Marshmallow Challenge.
A heartbeat and the challenge is off!
The Marshmallow Challenge, ideated by Tom Wujec, is a remarkably fun and instructive design exercise that encourages teams to experience simple but profound lessons in collaboration, innovation and creativity. It is among the fastest and most powerful technique for improving a team’s capacity to generate fresh ideas, build rapport and incorporate prototyping – all of which lie at the heart of effective innovation.
At the end of the eighteen minutes two marshmallows are actually the top element of two towers, the other four, unfortunately, are laying on the table. But what to do in order to make sure our project, with our innovative idea, will not end up like the marshmallows laying on the table?
The Marshmallow is a Metaphor for the Hidden Assumptions of a Project: The assumption in the Marshmallow Challenge is that marshmallows are light and fluffy and easily supported by the spaghetti sticks. When you actually try to build the structure, the marshmallows don’t seem so light. The lesson in the marshmallow challenge is that we need to identify the assumptions in our project – the real customer needs, the cost of the product, the duration of the service – and test them early and often. That’s the mechanism that leads to effective innovation.